Can Boiling Water Address the Invisible Threat in Our Drinking Water?

March 29, 2024
People increasingly want to know how to remove microplastics from water. Could boiling be sufficient? One study suggests that’s easy and possible.

An increasing body of research suggests microplastics harm humans, especially as they build up over time. People are exposed to microplastics in numerous ways, including inhalation or ingestion. Many municipal decision-makers are interested in learning how to remove microplastics from water. Is simply boiling sufficient for achieving that goal? Which methods should leaders apply at the municipal level?  

How to Remove Microplastics From Water With Boiling  

In 2024, researchers focused on calcium-containing tap water to learn whether boiling could reduce the impacts of nano- and microplastics (NMPs). First, they collected hard and soft water samples from Guangzhou, China. Next, the team spiked them with different concentrations of NMPs and boiled each sample for five minutes before letting it cool.  

Limescale-Like Encapsulation 

After collecting and boiling the samples, the team measured the liquid’s free-floating particle content. Due to hard water’s mineral richness, boiling results in calcium carbonate buildup, producing a chalky substance that periodically requires people living in hard-water areas to use limescale removers on kettles, shower walls and other areas exposed to it.  

Experiments indicated that the calcium carbonate formed crystalline structures that encapsulated microplastics as the water temperature increased. Additionally, the researchers found these encapsulations were similar to the calcium carbonate in that they would build up like limescale. Then, people could scrub the encapsulated NMP particles away.  

However, the scientists also clarified that even after removing most of the NMP that way, there would still be some floating particles in the liquid. Even so, tests showed people could easily remove those by running the water through a standard household filter.  

A Closer Look at the Effectiveness 

Researchers confirmed that the encapsulation effect across hard and soft water was more pronounced in the former. One sample contained 300 milligrams of calcium carbonate. Boiling it for five minutes removed up to 90% of free-floating MNPs.  

The soft water samples had less than 60 milligrams of calcium carbonate per liter. Even in those samples, the boiling still removed approximately 25% of the NMPs. The researchers concluded that their approach could be an effective way to curb microplastics in today’s water. This work did not delve into how to remove microplastics from water at the municipal level.  

However, boiling and filtering are straightforward processes. Even before decision-makers implement something for everyone in a particular area, they could publish targeted, user-friendly content. For example, a quick YouTube video could instruct people to boil water for the right amount of time to get the desired results.  

Another takeaway from this study was that the researchers’ approach could tackle microplastics measuring as small as one-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter or as large as 5 millimeters. That versatility is a notable advantage, especially as more scientists learn about microplastics and how they affect living things.  

Forward-thinking municipal leaders may even want to create a simple app with a built-in timer. People could use that to ensure they boil the water for a sufficient amount of time.  

Comparing Boiling Water to Other Options 

Elsewhere, researchers are comparing new microplastic-removal methods with existing techniques to compare the results. One study evaluated conventional activated sludge filters with an integrated membrane system. The results showed the membrane system removed microplastics more effectively than the sludge filters, which were the industry standard at the time.  

It’s easy to imagine how municipal workers could use the takeaways about how to remove microplastics from water and get inspiration for possibilities that might work on a larger scale. For example, in 2022, researchers from MIT released findings about how specially tailored surface treatments could make systems that heat and evaporate water use less energy.  

The researchers examined three surface treatments that made various modifications at different scales. The team confirmed they had only tried their tests in the lab and had yet to implement them at the industrial level. However, all things learned from these experiments can collectively create the progress needed to help municipalities determine the most effective ways to eliminate or reduce microplastics in water.  

Microplastics are but one emerging water issue in modern society. Water scarcity is another issue that frequently captures headlines worldwide. Some areas have established restrictions to cope with the worst of the impacts.  

Just as municipal leaders have explored various ways to address droughts, they will take a thoughtful, in-depth look at removing microplastics. Boiling is one of many options. However, its user-friendliness may make it the most accessible possibility for households. Then, as municipalities apply solutions at the industrial level, customers can be proactive about removing microplastics, too.  

Making Microplastic Removal an Accessible Option  

As more people become concerned about microplastics and their exposure to them, researchers must find options that are easy to implement. That’s one reason boiling water is so appealing. Anyone can do it with a kettle or stovetop. Plus, boiling is a well-established purification method already used by many customers dealing with contamination issues. That should make it more trustworthy to the public.  

In another case, researchers created an aerogel from egg whites to see how well it removed microplastics. Tests indicated this approach eliminated 99% of them, making it worth future investigation. Researchers at the University of British Columbia studied how to remove microplastics from water by trapping them with wood dust.  

Getting rid of microplastics by boiling the water is one possibility, but it’s always good to have alternatives to consider. By focusing on options such as wood dust and egg whites, people will gradually build up their knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. Municipal professionals can then rely on those details when developing in-house systems or deciding whether to invest in particular commercial options.  

Many people follow plant-based diets, but could plants also show them how to remove microplastics from water? Some researchers hope so. One team worked with food-grade plant extracts to develop microplastic removal techniques. The results indicated pairing okra with either tamarind or fenugreek could work as well as the conventional applications of flocculant polyacrylamide.  

It’s too early to predict how well solutions like these could work at an industrial level. However, the vast variety of creative possibilities will inspire professionals to find effective solutions. They must remember that microplastic removal is possible, and they’ll have progressively more avenues to pursue when getting it done.  

Growing Knowledge About an Important Issue 

These examples show that people have already learned a lot about how to remove microplastics from water. Even though these methods can’t eliminate them, they cause significant reductions, making them worth further investigation by municipal decision-makers and others.  

It’s unrealistic to hope someone finds a universally applicable solution for removing microplastics from drinking water. However, the progress made here showing that simply boiling it can make a substantial difference is undoubtedly promising. People will need to do further research to develop this approach for industrial use. Still, the foundational knowledge about using boiling as the primary removal method will be instrumental in opening possibilities and spurring ongoing research.  

Researchers know microplastic removal is desirable, and it’s already possible. However, the ongoing research in this area will promote continuous improvements in affordability and effectiveness, making microplastics far more manageable. 

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is the editor in chief of Revolutionized, a popular science publication that dives into the latest innovations in science, technology and industry. 

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